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How to Pitch Your Business to Customers, Investors or Anyone Else

Nicole Fallon

A great elevator pitch — the 30-second speech that tells someone about your business in a nutshell — is one of the most important tools an entrepreneur can have. It's a fast, effective way to grab the attention of someone who might be able to help you grow your company.

But what do you do once you have someone's attention? Successful sellers and marketers know that the best sales tactic is to demonstrate the benefits for the person to whom you're pitching. But the way you execute your pitch will vary greatly depending on who the recipient is — a potential client isn't going to be interested in the same things as a venture capitalist.

"You get one chance at explaining what your business does in order to entice a specific audience to want to understand more, [and] the pitch must be altered to fit the audience's specific needs," said Brendan Morrissey, CEO and co-founder of Netsertive, a digital marketing intelligence company. "Catering to those needs to showcase the problems you are solving in a sincere way will set you apart from competitors."

We asked business and marketing experts to share their best advice for crafting the perfect pitch based on your specific audience. [10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch]

A customer/client

Why do people pay for a product or service? In nearly every case, it's to solve a problem or meet a need that they have. Andrew Ackerman, managing director of startup accelerator DreamIt Ventures New York, said that the most effective way to pitch to potential customers is to understand their specific pain point and focus on it relentlessly.

"If the customer needs a faster solution, don't spend a lot of time talking about how you are less expensive than the competition," Ackerman said. "It seems simple, but so many salespeople feel like they have to go through every possible feature and benefit."

"Everyone is busy, so we respect the time we have with everyone by just talking only about solving their distinct and direct problems," added Jane Wang, CEO of employee wellness solution myHealthSphere. "It is important to focus the message on things that matter to them the most."

If you're not sure what the buyer cares about most, Ackerman advised asking them directly, so you can get right to the point.

An investor

It's a whole lot easier to convince someone to make a one-time purchase from your company than it is to persuade someone to pour hundreds of thousands —or even millions — of dollars into your fledgling business. Investors want to know that you and your team have a solid plan for growth and will give them a good return on their investment.

"[We look] for founders who have a clearly developed and defined 'why,' 'what' and 'how' in their pitch," said Boris Wertz, founder of Version One Ventures. "Each of these is a key component. If you're missing any, it can hurt your pitch and your chances for funding."

Wertz defined each of the three components as follows: 

  • Why: Why are you building this business? What problem are you looking to solve, or what question are you looking to answer? The pitch needs to clearly show motives and values behind your product or service.
  • What: Describe your product or service, and be able to demonstrate it for the people to whom you are pitching. Investors need to see that something can and does work, especially with new technologies. An idea for something can be great, but if the product itself doesn't work or has too many technical or mechanical problems, it's not a good sign.
  • How: How will you build your business? Show your plan for growth. A strong business model and solid plans for distribution and scale are key.

Lilia Shirman, CEO of B2B consulting services firm The Shirman Group, said that knowing your competition well, and having all your financial information memorized and understood, will make a good impression on investors. Most important, regardless of the outcome, keep the door open for future contact with potential investors.

"Don't think of the current funding round as a transaction," Shirman said. "Build relationships with future rounds in mind."

A corporate buyer

When you're getting ready to sell your business, a prospective buyer will want many of the same details an investor would, like the business's track record and potential for future growth. But because this person will have a much larger stake in your company, he or she may want a little more comfort that your current revenue won't evaporate six months after the sale, Ackerman said.

Michael Shepherd, president and CEO of The Shepherd Group PR and content marketing firm, noted that confidentiality is crucial in a corporate acquisition, so you'll want to make sure your discussions reflect this.

"Avoid letters, emails and other written forms of communication that could make their way into the wrong hands during the initial stages of testing the market," Shepherd told Business News Daily. "Use the telephone and ... secure a [face-to-face] meeting, ideally over lunch."

A media outlet

If you don't have the budget to hire a public relations firm, you'll need to learn to pitch reporters that cover your industry. Unlike pitches to the three audiences mentioned above, a successful media pitch won't directly result in sales or funding. However, the way a reporter interprets and writes about your business does influence the way his or her readers see you — and those readers could be potential customers.

But keep in mind that reporters aren't looking to write an advertisement when they feature your company. Often, they're looking for industry experts who can comment on topics that interest their readers. Instead of trying to use the media as a megaphone for your sales message, research the outlets you're pitching to, and try to help them serve their readers.

"If you are pitching to reporters, give them information that is useful for them and their [publication], and not because it will necessarily help your business," said Holly Bennett, public relations associate for Toronto Vaporizer. "Find out as much about the person you are taking to and the situation at hand. [Use] company websites, Twitter and LinkedIn to research who you are speaking to so you can be as valuable to them as possible. This builds trust and lets them know you are serious about making a connection that is mutually beneficial."

Bennett added that if you're sending a pitch via email, avoid copying and pasting the same text to send to every reporter: "Make sure it's always personalized, every time, for each person you are speaking to," she said.

A networking contact

The end goal of networking as a business owner is to get your new connection to recommend and/or introduce you to his or her own network. Directly "pitching" a networking contact in the way you might with other types of audiences is generally a bad idea, as you may come off as rude, desperate or presumptuous. However, what you can do is strike up a conversation and see if you can help them with their own business or career. In return, that person may be able to do something for you down the road — but don't assume that from the start. 

Shepherd advised connecting with someone you meet at a networking event on LinkedIn and inviting them for coffee to get to know them professionally, before you even bring up your own company.

"Don't try and sell your product or service at the initial meeting," Shepherd said. "Sell yourself, your experience and successes in working with companies and clients the individual is likely to know. Make the next touch a personal email or phone call aimed at more formally introducing your company and how you can help them."

"Find ways to understand what you can do for your new connection — then, do it," Shirman added. "Build relationships, and offer value before asking for favors."

Once you've developed the professional relationship to the point where you feel comfortable asking for a favor, then you can start talking to your contact about introducing you to other industry players.

"Your goal is to get contacts excited about your business and comfortable with the idea that introducing you to their network will make them look good," Ackerman said. "Hit your key benefits hard, stress your experience and any other social proof you can leverage, and be very specific about the types of people you want to meet. For instance, if you want customer introductions, list industries you are targeting, and ideally list specific companies and the job titles of the people you want to meet."

General tips

Ultimately, all pitches are about building mutually beneficial relationships. Here are a few fundamental tips you can use no matter who your audience is.

Make it conversational. "Don't pitch in the traditional sense of the word. Your job is to listen to the needs of your potential new client or customer, and figure out very quickly if you can help and add value. Customization is all about having a real conversation and doing more listening than talking." – Jane Wang, CEO of myHealthSphere

Provide real examples. "Use real stories that are relevant to the audience, to illustrate why your business does what it does and how it helps buyers in your target market. By utilizing current use cases, you can help an investor or prospect understand more easily why you are the right solution for them, keeping them engaged at the same time." – Brendan Morrissey, CEO and co-founder of Netsertive

Believe in what you're pitching. "If you don't believe in your business, why should others? I have personally encountered entrepreneurs who didn't convey a strong passion and belief in their business. If you don't genuinely believe in your idea, leave it and start working on a new one." – Ulrik Bo Larsen, CEO and founder of social media management platform Falcon Social

Image Credit: EDHAR/Shutterstock
Nicole Fallon Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.